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Philibert, Joseph - Delaware Town and the Swan Trading Post

Philibert, Joseph - Delaware Town and the Swan Trading Post by Senator Emory Melton as reprinted in the White River Valley Historical Quarterly Volume 6, Number 3, Spring 1977.

(Note: I have found two versions of this article. Since I do not know which is the original and which was edited, I am including both of them on this web site for completeness).

Delaware Town and the Swan Trading Post

1822 - 1831

by Senator Emory Melton

From White River Valley Historical Quarterly Volume 6, Number 3, Spring 1977

(This is actually a slightly different version than the one above.  I’m (Ron) not sure where the one above was sourced from)

(Note: Actually the incentive for this article came from Marvin Tong of the School of the Ozarks Museum. In a recent address before society members, Mr. Tong referred to a will contest suit which reached the Supreme Court of Missouri. The writer, through the help of the Supreme Court Librarian, Dorothy Divilbiss, obtained a copy of the transcript of the testimony. Mr. Tong is also responsible for some material on the central character of the story, William Gilliss, in his later years, and also for the Howard interview mentioned in the story. ELM).

Driving west on Highway 14 in 1977 some four and one-half miles west of Nixa at the new bridge across James River, it would never occur to the traveler that this was near the center of a thriving Delaware Indian village a century and a half ago in 1827.

It is perhaps more plausible, but equally as unlikely, that modern day visitors traversing highways 160 and 86 at the junction in the east edge of Forsyth would imagine a trading post at the nearby mouth of Swan Creek on the White River at the same time Delaware Town on the James Fork was in its hey day. It was here that the Weas, Piankenshaws and Peoria Indian Tribes from the area traded the products of the chase and forest for "store-bought" goods.

The Delaware Indians (along with some Lenapes--a related tribe) had wandered for years through the eastern central part of the United States after having been driven out of the Delaware Valley by attacks from stronger tribes such as the Iroquois, and later by the inroads of civilization.

This particular group of Delawares, together with a number of Shawnees, had spent the winter of 1821-22 on the Embarrass River a few miles below Vincennes in Indiana.

By July of 1822, the Delawares and some Shawnees were encamped on the Current River in central southern Missouri. In the summer they were at the trading post site on the James Fork.

Any attempt by historians to delve into the arrival of the pioneers in the White River Valley in southwest Missouri inevitably brings up the name of Joseph Philibert.

Living at Kaskaskia, Illinois, a small hamlet located a few miles down the Mississippi River from St. Genevieve, Philibert had grown up among the Indian tribes of that area. Born at St. Louis in 1802, the lad left home at an early age.

Sometime in either 1819 or 1820, Philibert who was of French descent, met an Indian trader named William Gilliss at St. Genevieve.

It was his acquaintance with Gilliss that was to bring him to southwest Missouri and which gives us a written record of Philibert’s sworn testimony about his life for a nine year period from 1822to 1831 in this area.

The full transcript and record of a law suit filed by two grandchildren of William Gilliss in the Jackson County Circuit Court on October 15, 1869, against the estate of Gilliss, contains not only the deposition of Joseph Philibert but testimony by a number of Indians and Indian traders who frequented the James and White River areas during the first decade of Missouri statehood.

The case was apparently of widespread interest since it involved an estate of almost half a million dollars amassed by Gilliss in his years of merchandising. At the time of his death, July 19, 1869, he and one Cal Coates were partners in a large store in Kansas City. The case was moved to Johnson County on a change of venue and later appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri. That court’s decision may be found in 58 MO 510.

The transcript, which includes the testimony of Philibert and the others, is now in the state archives and is dealt with here only as it affects the story of life in the James and White River Valleys in the early days.

William Gilliss was born in Somerset County, Maryland. The date of his birth, while not accurately known, was usually placed at "about the year 1797". There is evidence that he may have been slightly older.

Few facts are known about his lineage, but it is generally thought that the maternal side of his family was linked with the aristocracy of the old French regime before the Revolutionary Period. It is fairly well settled that on the paternal side he was of Scotch origin and quite proud of that fact and was very fond of quoting the poems of Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns.

Growing up on the eastern shore of Maryland, Gilliss was attracted to the sea and at the age of 14 ran away from home and shipped on one of the deep sea vessels sailing out of the Baltimore Harbor.

He began his service on the ship as assistant to the ship carpenter and apparently became quite proficient in the trade. In the following four years he followed the sea and acquired that spirit of adventure and experiencing a rough life, which was the stuff that went into the making of America’s pioneers. At eighteen he quit the sea, leaving a ship at New Orleans, and soon afterwards worked his way on a keelboat to Cincinnati where he began the business of a carpenter and builder.

It was here that he met William Henry Harrison, who would later become President of the United States. Harrison was one of the largest landowners in Cincinnati and recognizing Gilliss’ skill as a builder he employed him in the construction of dwelling and business houses on his estate. It was here that Gilliss really laid the foundation of his fortune. He took time out to enlist as a soldier in one of Harrison’s Indian campaigns and spent several months near where the city of Toledo, Ohio, now stands, doing garrison duty and strengthening and enlarging that important frontier post. Since these campaigns occurred in 1812, Gilliss must have been born before 1797.

Sometime near 1820--there is an uncertainty about most of the dates found in the old records of Gilliss’ activities--he went with his brother, John Gilliss, and his widowed mother to Kaskaskia,

Illinois, the old French and Indian settlement where history goes back to the earliest periods of far west development. It was here that he met the Delaware Indians and was inducted as a member of the tribe. Even then, Gilliss was considered to be a man of some wealth because he owned slaves and acquired property in the old town of Kaskaskia. Kaskaskia being just across the Mississippi River from Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, and Ste. Genevieve being an important outfitting post for the regions of southwest Missouri, it was probably natural that Gilliss would follow the Delaware Indians to their new home on the banks of the James River.

Contemporaries describe him as a tall, muscular, broad shouldered man weighing over 180 lbs. with a face that was square and ruddy.

It is not known exactly what date Gilliss arrived at what was later to become Delaware Town on the James Fork, but it is likely that it was in mid-summer of 1822.

A man of handsome athletic figure, romantic temperament and youthful ardor, it was not surprising that he found charms among the Indian Maidens, and by all accounts his affections among them were of a roving and unceremonial disposition.

White women were scarce in the settlement and Indian "brides" of a more or less temporary status filled the gap. Gilliss had several and by some of them children were born, though he always maintained to the day of his death that he was a "bachelor". Two of these children, Sophia and Mary Gilliss, were remembered perfunctorily in his will and two granddaughters by an Indian Maiden, Ka-ke-toquah, who was the daughter of a Piankeshaw chief, Laharsh, successfully contested his will in the lawsuit which contains many pages of testimony about the area from 1822 to 1831.

Suffice it to say that the law suit involved the question of whether the mother of the two grandchildren, Nancy Gilliss, was the daughter of Gilliss by a Piankeshaw Indian Maiden who lived near the mouth of Swan Creek (now old Forsyth) in the latter part of the 1820’s. The court decided they were and gave them a share of the estate.

Philibert, who was living on the James River at its junction with the White in Stone County at the time his deposition was given, was one of the main characters in the trial. He was 68 years old when he rode horseback some 20 miles to Galena

[3]

on Tuesday, June 7, 1870, to give his testimony before a judge of the county court.

One of the attorneys, during the deposition, asked Philibert about the state of his health and the old trader suggested he had been afflicted with "liver complaint" for about 20 years. He also told the attorney he was afflicted with "neuralgia in the head" from which he had suffered since the latter part of February, 1865. It was so severe that he had "nearly or quite" lost the sight of his right eye.

Philibert recounted the early years at Kaskaskia, St. Louis and St. Genevieve before he left that area to settle permanently in southwest Missouri. Many members of the Weas, Peoria and Piankeshaw tribes came from the Kaskaskia area to the mouth of Swan on White River about 1826.

Arriving for the first time in the valley of the James between the first and the fifteenth of September, 1822, Philibert found his friend Gilliss operating a trading post on the "James Fork" about 14 miles south of what is now Springfield. The town of Springfield did not come into being until some nine years later in 1831. During the deposition, Philibert located the site of the trading post as being in "what is now Christian County."

For a few weeks after his arrival he worked as a gunsmith, but soon abandoned this work to be employed by Gilliss "as a clerk and thereafter mostly I was engaged to sell goods as a clerk at ‘Delaware Trading House’ on the James Fork of White River." Actually, Gilliss was in the employ of Menard and Valle, which was a firm dealing extensively with the government in supplying the Indian tribes with rations and also purchasing furs and pelts. The headquarters of Menard and Valle was apparently in the St. Louis and St. Genevieve area. Peter Menard, whose deposition was read at the trial, was in 1870 a resident of Tazewell County, Illinois. He was 72 years of age at the time and was the son of the Menard in the firm employing Gilliss. The elder Menard was an Indian agent for the government. Apparently the conflict of interest laws were not as strict in those early days or else enforcement was lax.

The new home of Philibert was known variously as "The Trading House". "The Delaware Trading Post", "The James Fork Trading Post", and "Delaware Town." Actually "Delaware Town" consisted of the location of the Delaware tribe both upstream and downstream from the nearby trading post.

Philibert described his duties as a clerk as having "laid in the goods and sold the goods of furs and peltry."

Another Kaskaskian, James Pool, and his white wife, Phoebe, lived in the Delaware village from about 1822 to 1830. Pool, who was the Delaware blacksmith, was an employee of the government at the James Fork Trading Post.

Although they were an eastern woodland people, the Delawares took quickly to the fertile fields of the James River Valley. In October of 1823, the Indian agent, Richard Graham, wrote his superiors that "high waters has washed away corn and pumpkins."

Villages quickly sprung up along the James in both directions from Delaware Town. Apparently each village "belonged to" or at least was supervised by either a "chief" or a "sub-chief."

The testimony in the Gilliss case and documents from the Missouri Historical Society make frequent reference to the villages of Capt. Ketchum, Capt. Patterson, Capt. Pipe, Capt. Beaver and others. The usual military rank designation was apparently applied to the sub-chiefs.

In an interview several years ago with Marvin Tong, now curator of the museum at the School of the Ozarks, Billings Banker Jack Howard recalled how he had grown up on the farm which was a part of the Delaware settlement. The land was patented by Mr. Howard’s grandfather shortly after the Delawares removed in the late fall of 1830. At the time there were still a few Delawares in the vicinity who had remained behind when the tribe was moved by Gilliss and his teamsters to the Turkey Creek and Kaw River areas near what was later to become Kansas City.

Mr. Howard was able to give a vivid description of the Delawares in their last Missouri Village from stories told him by his grandfather and other early day settlers long since dead. Mr. Howard said from what information he was able to obtain, the Delawares were described as a very small, dark type of Indian with small heads, very black hair, and despite the small stature, were considered to be physically strong. According to information furnished Mr. Howard, the Delawares in their camp near Springfield lived for the most part in log cabins constructed similar to the ones occupied by white men. Most of the cabins had puncheon floors and fireplaces, but a few were built directly on the ground with dirt floors and a hole in the center of the roof to allow smoke

[4]

to escape from the fire burning in the center of the floor. Still others, Mr. Howard said, preferred a small, rounded hut manufactured from tree limbs, brush, cedar boughs and covered with grass and hides from animals. Mr. Howard also said the Delawares often wore clothing cast off by white men, and seemed to prefer European type vests and coats. Some wore breech cloths, and still others dressed in trousers. The Delawares decorated their clothing with bead work, small metal bells, bits of glass, and other trinkets obtained from white traders. Some of the Lenapes, Mr. Howard told Tong, had strings of beads which appeared to be bone or shell, but the majority of the men and women wore colorful glass beads. The Delawares in their village on James River used metal tools, such as hoes, axes, guns and cast iron kettles, in which they cooked their corn, beans and meat into a type of thick stew.

William Myres, a clerk for Gilliss at James Fork and Swan Trading Posts from 1827 to 1829, in his testimony in the 1870 lawsuit, recalled that Indian ponies sold for prices ranging from $15.00 to $40.00. Horse racing was a popular sport and there was a large race track located upstream from Delaware Town. He also recalled that the trading post was about 250 miles from Ste. Genevieve. The trip for goods took some 15 days in going 30 to 40 miles a day. The return trip was made at a slower pace since the "2 large good wagons" owned by Gilliss were loaded with goods. Roads were bad and in many places were little more than discernable trails. Most of the time Philibert was in charge of the purchase of the goods at Ste. Genevieve.

Myres described the trading facilities at the James Fork trading post by saying "there was a store house for retailing and then a large log building where the goods were in bales or packages not broken, and a house where the hired men slept and there may have been some others--cribs or hen houses."

He noted that the Swan trading post did little business compared to the James Fork facility.

"During the years from 1827 to 1829 I (Myres) was back and forth from James Fork to Swan River. It was not necessary for me to remain at Swan all the time. I averaged one to two trips a month in summer, which would last 8 or 10 days each time, and in winter I was there longer, sometimes a month at a time. The rest of the time I was at James Fork. When I was away from Swan a Frenchman named Basila Boyer took charge of the property but sold no goods. The house was closed in my absence." Apparently the trading post at Swan was operated by a man named Laramie prior to the time Gilliss took it over in 1827.

Capt. Ketchum’s Delaware Village was located below the trading post on the James. John Sarcoxie, for whom the Jasper County town was later named, was a Delaware living near Delaware Town.

Col. Menard of Menard and Valle came infrequently to the trading posts at the James Fork location and the mouth of Swan. His son, Peter Menard, who was 4 years older than Philibert, visited the trading posts at least twice a year, usually in the spring and the fall. The son and Philibert were boyhood friends in Kaskaskie.

During his employment from 1822 to 1830, Philibert was frequently required to be away from the trading post. "Sometimes I was absent for two or three days. Sometimes two or three weeks, a month, and once upwards of two months. Ste. Genevieve was one place to go to. We called it 250 miles." He noted that he was required to go to Ste. Genevieve at least once a year, sometimes twice, and one year he went three times.

All his trips away from the trading post were made by land except in 1827 he made one trip down the James to the White and then downstream to the mouth of Swan in company with fellow clerk, William Myres. Another trip over the same route was made with his employer, Gilliss. The longest trip was made from the mouth of Swan down the White and Mississippi to New Orleans.

Apparently the dealings between the operation conducted by Gilliss and the U.S. Government were carried out at Ste. Genevieve. Philibert noted that in the fall of 1824 he traveled to Ste. Genevieve on a two-fold mission. One objective was to obtain gun powder and the other was to obtain a license for his employer "to trade."

The route between Delaware Town on the James Fork and Ste. Genevieve was described by Philibert as being "the same old route we always traveled--what we called the Old Piney Road-- which route came and led from Ste. Genevieve by Massey’s Iron Works across Little Piney and Big Piney passing to the headwaters of the James by the house of Mr. Thomas Patterson, and then four miles south of Springfield and so through to Delaware Town, being James Fork Trading Post."

[5]

A better and more complete description of the route is contained in a letter written by a relative of John Polk Campbell, the Springfield pioneer, who wrote of Campbell’s trip from Maury County, Tennessee, in February of 1830. From Ste. Genevieve the road led to Farmington and the relative recounts the journey on south and west:

"Thence they proceeded on to Farming-ton, in St. Francois county, and by Caledonia, in Washington County, which was the last town, and it only contained one little store and two or three dozen inhabitants. Then on west, with scarcely any road, to the present site of Steelville, in Crawford county, and on twelve miles further to Massey’s iron works, which has been in operation but a very short time, and so on to where Rolla now stands. Twelve miles farther on, they came to old Jimmy Harrison’s at the mouth of Little Piney, on the Gasconade, about four hundred yards south of the present Gasconade bridge."

"Mr. Harrison kept a little store for the accommodation of the few settlers up and down the Piney and Gasconade. That was also the court house for the whole of Southwest Missouri, and so it was the only post-office until 1832. Thence west twenty miles brought them across the Big Piney on to Robidoux, now Waynesville, in Pulaski county. Continuing their journey, they went up the Gasconade river to the mouth of the Osage Fork, where they found a few white settlers-some of the Starks, Ballous, Tygarts, O’Neals, and one old Jim Campbell who was sheriff of all of Southwest Missouri. This was in the neighborhood of the present (1883) Oldland post-office."

"From there they came on to Cave Spring, where they crossed the Osage Fork, leaving it at the old Barnett place, from which they came to Pleasant Prairie, now Marshfield, and striking James Fork twenty miles east, thence down to Jerry Pierson’s, where he had built a little water mill at a spring just below the Danforth place. Then on west they struck the Kickapoo Prairie one mile east of the present Joe Merritt place; thence five miles more brought them to the natural well. Here they camped on the night of the 4th. of March, 1830."

Philibert also recalled visiting the Pincinneceau Trading House on the Osage some three or four times. It was owned by the American Fur Company and operated by Pincinneauceau some 90 to 100 miles north and east of Delaware Town--a two day ride by horseback. The first visit was by accident when Philibert became lost while traveling. In 1823, Philibert visited the Black Swamp which apparently was located on the Black river, probably in or near Wayne County. At other times he made trips to Sugar Creek some seventy miles southwest of Delaware Town, and he also went into Arkansas where he purchased furs and collected "peltry."

About July 20, 1830, Philibert, in company with William Myres, was sent to Grand River near the Missouri and Oklahoma line to visit a Piankeshaw chief and collect $1,000 which the tribe owed Gilliss. From there the two went to the Kaw River in Jackson County, then to St. Louis and finally to Ste. Genevieve.

Myres first met Gilliss in St. Genevieve in 1826. He was employed by Menard and Valle late in 1826 or early in 1827, and in February of 1827 left St. Genevieve with Col. Peter Menard for the James Fork Trading Post. From then until the late fall of 1829 he was "there and in the vicinity at the Swan River trading house, some thirty miles below the James Fork" post. He acted as a clerk at both places--principally at the Swan location.

Philibert learned to speak the Delaware language and also had a limited ability to converse with the Piankeshaws. At least he was fluent enough to trade with them since he would infrequently spend two or three days at a time at the Swan Trading Post. The Piankeshaws, Weas and Peorias lived in that area from 1827 to the fall of 1829.

The exact location of the James Fork trading house and the two-room log home of William Gilliss where Philibert lived are lost in the dust of antiquity although we know that Delaware Town and the trading post were located on the east side of the James River almost due west of the present day town of Nixa.

The main portion of the settlement was about 500 yards southwest of the Missouri Highway 14 bridge which spans the James. However, there were Delaware villages upstream as far as the mouth of Wilson Creek, some two miles northwest of the trading post. Other villages were located downstream a mile or more.

[6]

Philibert described the Gilliss residence by saying, "It was a one story hewed log house known as a double house with an entry in between. The south room was the kitchen, the north room was the Gilliss’ room. A door from each room opened into the open entry and one door on the west side of the kitchen opening to the outside. One window in the east side of Gilliss’ room and a chimney at each end of the house.

The deposition of Philibert contains a drawing he made from memory of the log house he occupied with Gilliss.

Other witnesses described the size as each of the two rooms being about sixteen feet square. There is considerable dispute about the south room being a kitchen and being occupied by the black slave woman "Rhoda Jones", who also testified at the trial. Philibert remembered that Rhoda and another black slave woman, "Olive," and their children, along with the husband of one, lived in the south room and cooked meals there.

One of the star witnesses in the Gilliss case was Baptiste Peoria, who, at the time of the trial in 1872 described himself as "Big Chief," was part Indian and part Negro. He had spent a great deal of time at the James Fork trading post from 1822 to 1830 as an interpreter, trader, guide and general factotum for Gilliss. He was also associated with the three tribes at Swan. His recollection was that there were several other little houses near the residence and the trading house. He remembered Rhoda and testified "there were other colored people that lived in another house-some distance off--one was married--had three or four children. They made cheese--ate and slept in that house where they made cheese. Rhoda, the cook, slept in a little house by herself. It was the kitchen."

Apparently, the residence of Gilliss and the trading house were only a few feet apart. Several witnesses refer to the "cheese house", but there is no explanation as to its function other than that’s where they made cheese.

One of the disappointing features of this story is the lack of information about the "goods" which were carried in stock at the trading posts. Coffee, sugar, flour, calico, gun powder, side-saddles and guns are mentioned, but there was no other reference in the testimony except to the general category of "dry goods."

The Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis was kind enough to furnish a copy of an invoice of merchandise purchased by Gilliss at St. Genevieve in October of 1827 which was "to be traded at the Three Forks of White River with the Delaware, Shawnee and other tribes of Indians.

[7]

The items which appeared on the invoice are as follows:

10 pieces

Blue Ground Calico

280 yards

.16

$44.80

5 pieces

Blue Ground Calico

120 yards

.20

24.00

1 pieces

Blue Ground Calico

75 yards

.21

14.75

10 pieces

White Ground Calico

300 yards

.15

45.00

5 pieces

White Ground Calico

140 yards

.19

26.90

4 pieces

Assorted Calico

112 yards

.22

24.64

14 pieces

Domestic Cotton

430 yards

.13

55.90

1 pieces

Domestic Cotton

180 yards

.15

24.00

4 pieces

Domestic Cotton

118 yards

.17

20.06

12 pieces

Striped

360 yards

.13

46.06

4 pieces

Striped

150 yards

.16

24.00

4 pieces

Striped

145 yards

.14

20.30

6 pieces

Striped Bleach

150 yards

.14

22.40

3 pieces

Bleach

92 yards

.16

14.72

6 pieces

Brown

175 yards

.12 1/2

21.31

3 pieces

Brown

92 yards

.13

11.96

S pieces

Bed Tickin

180 yards

.16

28.80

3 pieces

Bed Tickin

80 yards

.20

16.00

1 piece

Bed Tickin Washington

33 1/3 yards

.23

7.65

4 pieces

Rusia Sheeting

10.50

42.00

4 pieces

Blue Strouds Narrow List *

30.00

120.00

8 pieces

B. Saved List

120 yards

1.50

120.00

4 pieces

Scarlet

70 yards

1.75

122.50

1 piece

Scarlet

16 yards

2.25

36.00

2 pieces

Green

35 yards

2.00

70.00

2 pieces

Grey

36 yards

1.70

$61.20

1 piece

Sky Blue

21 yards

2.25

47.25

1 piece

Grey List

23 1/2 yards

1.60

14.60

11 pieces

7/4 Chintz Shawls

9 Doz. Shawls

8.00

72.00

6 pieces

5/4 Chintz Shawls

50 Shawls

1.25

62.50

4 pieces

5/4 Chintz Shawls

5 Dozen

5.00

20.00

8 pieces


Date28 Aug 2013
Linked toPHILIBERT JOSEPH, II

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